Top 9 Criminal Justice Stories
1) ANOTHER EASTSIDE SHOOTING In May, Austin Police Officer Leonardo Quintana fatally shot 18-year-old Nathaniel Sanders II in the parking lot of the Walnut Creek apartments. With a federal civil lawsuit pending, this story will linger in 2010.
2) DAMAGED GOODS In the fallout from the Sanders shooting, Police Chief Art Acevedo fired Internal Affairs Detective Chris Dunn, for two e-mails demonstrating his bias toward Quintana in the shooting investigation. Dunn will appeal, so expect to read this, too, in the new year.
3) AN END TO THE NEVER-ENDING CRIME STORY? Eighteen years after the grisly murder of four teen girls at a North Austin yogurt shop, new DNA evidence forced District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg to dismiss all charges against the two remaining defendants in the case, Robert Springsteen and Michael Scott.
4) ROBES OFF, ROBES ON After her handy 2008 victory, in January Lehmberg was sworn in as the county's first female district attorney. As the year closed, Criminal District Judges Wilford Flowers, Bob Perkins, and Charlie Baird all announced they would retire in 2010, heating up the spring race for the benches.
5) THOU SHALT NOT DISCRIMINATE After three years of legal wrangling, the city won the lawsuit brought by former APD Officer Ramon Perez, who alleged he was forced to resign not because he underperformed but because his supervisors didn't care for his religious beliefs. A federal jury just didn't agree.
6) NEVER TOO LATE TO CORRECT THE RECORD In February, Judge Charlie Baird handed down the state's first posthumous exoneration of a wrongfully convicted man. Timothy Cole was convicted for a 1985 rape in Lubbock that he did not commit; he had died in prison before he could clear his name. Gov. Rick Perry has said Texas law prohibits him from formally pardoning Cole, much to the consternation of Cole's family – brother Cory Session says he'll dog the governor until his brother is officially cleared.
7) THE FIRE THIS TIME Did the state of Texas execute an innocent man based on junk fire-science? That's the question in the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, executed in 2004 for the arson-murder of his three young children. The state's Forensic Science Commission was about to address that question when Perry replaced three members of the commission just two days before it was slated to hear expert testimony. Adding oxygen to the flames, Perry appointed as chair Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley; unsurprisingly, Bradley has put on indefinite hold the commission's review of the use of fire science in Texas courts.
8) LEGITIMATE PUBLIC CONCERN In March, the Chronicle won a lawsuit against the city of Austin, forcing the release of the Austin Police Department offense report connected to the infamous 1991-1992 Fran and Dan Keller day-care child abuse case. The report revealed a shoddy inquiry by credulous investigators who believed every allegation a child made – no matter how ludicrous or impossible.
9) SHOOTING FANS IN A BARREL Angry about missing their stage time at the now-defunct Spiros nightclub, Brandon and LaBaaron Hutchison, two Central Texas rappers with the LG Allstarz, got rough with the promoter and then, ejected, retaliated by brandishing pistols and shooting randomly into the crowd of fans trying to leave the club. Eight people were shot; all recovered. That was that for the Hutchison boys – and for Spiros, which surrendered its liquor license and was soon shuttered.